A small coastal town on Lincolnshire’s low-lying fens, Mablethorpe springs into action in summer as a family tourist resort.
The headline is the vast golden sandy beach, many miles long and tracked by dunes and a nature reserve to the north.
There’s a lot for kids to get up to, whether it’s the simple joys of crazy golf and paddling pools, or days out at wildlife sanctuaries and trips on Mablethorpe’s nostalgic sand train.
As a contrast to the resort’s fairground, amusements and arcade, the town of Alford by the Lincolnshire Wolds has a thatched 17th-century manor house and a restored five-sailed windmill.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Mablethorpe:
1. Mablethorpe Beach
A perennial Blue Flag winner, Mablethorpe Beach has wide golden sands that continue for miles north and south of the resort.
You can stay central for beachfront amenities like fish and chip shops, donkey rides and crazy golf or strike out to the north to leave the crowds behind.
At Theddlethorpe the beach takes on humungous proportions and you may not see a soul.
Back in the resort there’s a line of colourful beach hunts edging the raised promenade.
In mid-September these host the Bathing Beauties arts and crafts festival.
That promenade stretches down the coast past Sutton-on-Sea, for long walks and bike rides.
2. Saltfleetby – Theddlethorpe Dunes
North of the Seal Sanctuary the coastline becomes a nature reserve protecting 1,377 acres of dunes, salt marsh, freshwater marsh, mudflats and sandy beach.
You’ll see that there are two ridges of dunes, running north to south on either side of the freshwater reserve.
The landward ridge dates back to the 1200s and was formed on a storm beach, while the dunes on the east side are from the 1800s and were caused by the Great Eau River being diverted.
The reserve has three marked trails to walk, with different things to see according to the season.
A range of wildfowl species like teal and widgeon spend the entire winter in the reserve, while in spring there are beautiful displays of dune flora, and scores of migrant bird species can be sighted in summer.
3. Lincolnshire Aquapark
In the fens behind the resort there’s a group of freshwater pools installed with an inflatable adventure course in the summer.
The Lincolnshire Aquapark is open from the end of May to the start of October and is suitable for anyone over the age of five.
You’ll wear a lifejacket and helmet to battle across a tiring but fun course that has two large slides, a giant hamster wheel, eight trampolines, inflatable climbing walls, a blast bag that throws people four metres into the air and a five-metre-high Jungle Joe climbing frame.
4. Mablethorpe Sand Train
A linchpin of the resort since 1952, the Mablethorpe Sand Train runs along Mablethorpe North Beach’s golden sands.
Such is the size of the beach that you may even use the train as transport if you’re staying around the Golden Sands Holiday Park or want to get from the centre of the resort to the Seal Sanctuary.
Dogs are welcome on board, and the entire round trip from the Central Beach will take about 20 minutes and cost £2 per passenger, with children under two travelling for free.
5. Radcliffe Donkey Sanctuary
For some family time away from the coast there’s a farm for rescued donkeys in the nearby village of Huttoft.
The Radcliffe Donkey Sanctuary is non-profit and opens Tuesday to Thursday and weekends in the summer.
The farm lays out buckets of carrots that you can buy for 50p to feed the donkeys through the paddock fence, and it’s an activity children can take part in as the animals are all gentle.
The sanctuary also has a small cafe serving drinks and hot and cold snacks.
6. Queens Park
Tucked in from the promenade, Queens Park is a family-oriented park with lots of amenities for kids.
The dominant feature is a boating lake, the kind that used to be found at coastal towns all over England in the early 20th century.
This is now inhabited by a large flock of geese.
There’s also a paddling pool, miniature railway, along with an 18-hole putting green and a crazy golf course.
Whenever you visit you’ll see older residents using the bowling green and tennis court, while the Pavilion Cafe next to the paddling pool is stocked with a selection of snacks, hot drinks and ice cream.
7. Mablethorpe Seal Sanctuary and Wildlife Centre
This small zoo is run by a charity rescuing seals and seabirds.
The resident seals that can’t be released back into the wild are kept in enclosures, and there are information panels describing their behaviour and personal stories.
You can learn even more during scheduled feeding times.
The wildlife centre also has a host of primates (see the noisy gibbons), reptiles, cats, meerkats, goats, emus, guinea pigs, giant rabbits, pigs, ponies and birds of prey.
8. Alford Manor House
The town of Alford near Mablethorpe has a few things that make the drive worthwhile, but best of all is this 17th century mansion.
Alford Manor House is thought to be the largest manor house in the UK to have a thatched roof.
Based on an H plant and completed in 1611, the building has a timber frame that was later encased in brick walls.
The house is hired out for private functions, but also opens up for exhibitions dealing with local history.
In the barn on the grounds is the Museum of Rural Life, lifting the lid on life in days gone by on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds.
There’s a bootmaker and blacksmith’s shop, a Hornsby threshing drum, a 1957 Massey Harris 780 Special combine and a collection mid-20th-century Lister and Petter stationary engines.
9. Mablethorpe to Sutton-on-Sea Promenade Cycleway
Mablethorpe is at the top of a string of coastal towns linked by a long seafront cycle-path atop an embankment.
People craving exercise, sea air and peace can escape Mablethorpe’s arcades for more sedate villages and towns.
On the way to Sutton-on-Sea, Trusthorpe has a Medieval parish church.
The difference between Sutton-on-Sea and Mablethorpe is night and day, but the beach is almost identical and there’s a paddling pool for little ones by the promenade.
You could play a round of golf at Sandilands Golf Club’s links course and go for a pub lunch in the low-key town behind the embankment.
10. Loewen Cinema
This being England there’s always a chance that your family day at the beach may be interrupted by the weather.
The Loewen Cinema is a rainy day solution, showing all the latest Hollywood blockbusters and family movies.
Although there’s nothing special about the modern building, this friendly, personal theatre is a world away from the big multiplex cinemas; if you come in the afternoon you’ll get a fee cup of tea or coffee, while the seats are large and comfortable in both the big and small auditoriums.
If you’re used to watching films at corporate cinemas you’ll be shocked by how cheap the tickets, popcorn and soft drinks are.
11. Mablethorpe Fairground
A mainstay of the resort on the Central Promenade, the Mablethorpe Fairground is good for a blast of kitschy family fun.
The site is free to enter, and you’ll pay with vouchers for each ride and amusement.
There are dodgems, slides, a House of Terror, games like hook-a-duck and lots of gentle rides to suit smaller children like carousels and a “Cars” themed Race-o-Rama.
The fairground is open weekends from 11:00 to 17:00 and serves classic seaside fare like toffee apples and fish and chips.
12. Alford Five-Sailed Windmill
This impressive mill is in perfect working order and opens to the public on given dates throughout the year.
These tend to be irregular, so you’ll need to check the mill’s website before coming.
A quick ten-minute drive from Mablethorpe, the mill went up in 1837. Interestingly, the company founded by the millwright who built this mill remains in business to this day.
The five-sailed design was mould-breaking at the time, and was based on the efficiency experiments of the engineer John Smeaton.
You’ll get to see wheat by ground by windpower, while the adorable tearoom “Millstones” bakes delicious coffee cakes and Victoria sponges with stone-ground flour.
13. On Your Marques
Also in Alford is a private model car and motor-racing museum put together with a lot of love.
On Your Marques will interest anyone who has an eye for collectibles or quirky museums.
There are about 6,500 models here on show during the museum’s season in the summer.
When it reopens there’s always a large cache of new acquisitions to browse.
Together with the models are posters and other car-themed memorabilia from movies, Formula 1, rallying, supercars and Le Mans.
The Pit-Stop cafe serves tea and cake, and one side of the cafe is a highly detailed working Scalextric (slot car) track, a little under 50 metres long.
14. Woodthorpe Garden Centre
Not just a place to buy plants and garden furniture and accessories, Woodthorpe Garden Centre is a standalone attraction that will appeal to little ones especially.
There’s a generous outdoor play area, a large hedge maze to solve and “Dinothorpe” which has surprisingly convincing models of dinosaurs.
Woodthorpe Garden Centre also has a sit-down restaurant, serving coffee supplied by Stokes of Lincoln (founded 1902), while there’s a Santa’s Grotto during the Advent season.
15. The Mirage
Parents holidaying with teenagers could allow their kids some free time at this indoor amusement arcade, which is always full of life in summer.
The Mirage is crammed with arcade machines that are kept up to date, along with old-school games like coin-pushers and ticket redemption machines.
Also under this one roof is a multi-lane bowling alley, a play area for a smaller children and a cafe/bar where grown-ups can take a short break from parenting.